Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Robert Parry Speaks. You Listen.

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 2, 2009

Journalism didn’t just go downhill when FOX News was started, and Rupert Murdoch’s not the only villain in the media, as former Newsweek journalist Robert Parry reminds us:

For instance, during the 1980s, when I was with the Associated Press and Newsweek, I witnessed extraordinary demands for airtight evidence regarding the real problem of cocaine trafficking by the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contras, compared with easy acceptance of flimsy evidence about similar accusations against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

After all, President Ronald Reagan had hailed the contras as “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers” and had denounced Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua as “a totalitarian dungeon.” Truly objective U.S. journalism would have tossed out Reagan’s characterizations and simply evaluated the cocaine-smuggling evidence, but that was not how it worked.

Even years later, in 1998 when the CIA’s inspector general concluded that scores of contra figures and groups were implicated in cocaine smuggling, the mainstream U.S. news media ignored or downplayed those findings, while continuing to pummel journalist Gary Webb for flaws in his multi-part investigative series that had revived the contra-cocaine issue in 1996.

The journalistic blacklisting of Webb – carried out by the leading lights of U.S. newspapers (the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times) – contributed to Webb’s suicide in 2004. [For details, see’s “We All Failed Gary Webb.”]

While the Webb tragedy may have been an extreme case of the mainstream news media tailoring its coverage of a controversial issue to fit acceptable political parameters, the constraints that applied to the contra-cocaine issue were part of a long-running pattern.

Indeed, several  years after ganging up on Gary Webb – and protecting Reagan’s beloved contras – many of the same newspapers got in line behind President George W. Bush’s case for war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Claims about Hussein’s supposed WMD stockpiles were trumpeted while contrary evidence was muted.

You’d think that the US press would have learned their lesson, but nooooo. They continued to faithfully report the storyline most pleasing to the people who signed their paychecks (and the buddies of those people) even when it was violently at odds with the known reality, as shown by their handling of the February 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, billionaire Lebanese real estate mogul and former Lebanese Prime Minister:

Because Syria was then on President Bush’s hit list for “regime change,” speculative evidence of Syrian guilt was widely accepted by the U.S. news media, which demonstrated very little skepticism toward a preliminary United Nations report implicating Syrian leaders and their Lebanese allies.

“There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services,” declared the U.N.’s first interim report on Oct. 20, 2005.


Much like the Iraqi WMD evidence, the Hariri case soon began to crumble.

One witness, Saddik, was identified by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel as a swindler who boasted about becoming “a millionaire” from his Hariri testimony. The other one, Hussam, recanted his testimony about Syrian involvement, saying he lied to the Mehlis investigation after being kidnapped, tortured and offered $1.3 million by Lebanese officials.

Mehlis soon stepped down, as even the New York Times acknowledged that the conflicting accusations had given the investigation the feel of “a fictional spy thriller.” [NYT, Dec. 7, 2005]

Mehlis’s replacements backed away from his Syrian accusations. The next chief investigator, Serge Brammertz of Belgium, began entertaining other investigative leads, examining a variety of possible motives and a number of potential perpetrators.

“Given the many different positions occupied by Mr. Hariri, and his wide range of public and private-sector activities, the [U.N.] commission was investigating a number of different motives, including political motivations, personal vendettas, financial circumstances and extremist ideologies, or any combination of those motivations,” Brammertz’s interim report said, according to a U.N. statement on June 14, 2006.

In other words, Brammertz had dumped Mehlis’s single-minded theory that had pinned the blame on senior Syrian security officials. Though Syria’s freewheeling intelligence services and their Lebanese cohorts remained on everyone’s suspect list, Brammertz adopted a far less confrontational and accusatory tone toward Syria.


Now, more than four years after the Hariri assassination, the U.N. tribunal handling his murder and other terrorist acts in Lebanon finally has acknowledged that it lacks evidence to indict the four security officials who have been held without formal charges since 2005.

That shift was foreshadowed in a Dec. 2, 2008, interim report to the U.N. Security Council, which lamented the complexity of the case.

“For every inch of progress there is a mile of effort,” the report said. “Those responsible for the attacks were professional and took extensive measures to cover their tracks and hide their identity. Much of the Commission’s activity at this point in the investigation focuses on piercing this smokescreen to get at the truth.”

On Wednesday, Judge Daniel Fransen of a special international tribunal ordered the four imprisoned security officials released.

In a similar situation – say, one that involved a U.S. ally – the release would have been viewed as proof of innocence or at least the absence of significant evidence of guilt.

In this case, however, the New York Times refused to acknowledge the obvious fact that the case against Syrian complicity remains weak. Instead, the Times framed the development as underscoring “the legal pitfalls of a divisive international trial.” [NYT, April 30, 2009]

Same old, same old.

5 Responses to “Robert Parry Speaks. You Listen.”

  1. Charles II said

    For the newspapers, events are almost irrelevant. What matters is the scaffolding of official narrative that they hang them on.

    Thus, since Syria is an official enemy, the collapse of evidence of their guilt is not really a suggestion that they might not be quite as bad as we paint them. The event is moved from the “Syria” wing of the structure to the “community of nations” wing and is displayed as evidence that working with other nations is hard, so we shouldn’t do it.

    I’m not entirely sure whether the people who own papers are carrying out the directives of the government, whether they are part of a shadow corporate government, or whether they are insane. Maybe a bit of all.

    • Insofar as the government has been lately of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations, it is not in the corporate interest to cast doubt on public myths which maintain this state of affairs.

      • Charles II said

        So you vote for the existence of a shadow corporate government, Mahakal?

        It certainly could be so… to the extent that people go from corporations into government and vice-verse, it is so. But there is so much loyalty to the public myths by all but the very most radical Democrats, and so much insanity to it all that one has to wonder whether that is the entire explanation.

      • Do I vote for the existence of such a shadow corporate government? No. It exists. I vote to end it.

  2. brownbuffalo said

    “You’d think that the US press would have learned their lesson” Oh, but they did “They continued to faithfully report the storyline most pleasing to the people who signed their paychecks.” See how that fits together?! And, no, I don’t think it is a good thing.

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